The Next Phase
‘Yanus. Oi, Yanus. Ugh. Esper! Wake up!’
Esper opened one eye then went back to sleep upon seeing his disgruntled colleague. He felt tired. He yearned for that five minutes more in bed but a strong slap to the face made Esper jump out of his bed, crashing to the floor in his confusion. He looked up to see Jack’s face more scrunched up than before.
‘Yo,’ Esper greeted.
‘Don’t “Yo” me,’ Jack barked. ‘We’ve been preparing the next phase of our mission for ages and you can’t even get up on the day we’ve set?’
‘Yeah, yeah. Is food ready?’
‘Relax for a moment. All I gotta do is arrive at your medic facility before that Lahel guy.’
‘Oh, you actually remember his name. Looks like me hammering information into your skull finally paid off,’ Jack said, helping Esper up. ‘Anyway, I need to be at the clinic now. It’s insane how early Tom Babacla has to work.’
‘Ba-bye,’ Esper waved.
‘You will be there,’ Jack reinforced, donning the vest made of vines that the deceased medic used to wear. ‘Our mission depends on you getting off your ass for once. Make you get all the right documentation. Oh, and also my name is?’
‘Yes. It’s Tom Babacla. Don’t you forget it. I am no longer Jack when I’m outside, so don’t blow my cover by being stupid.’
‘Yeah, yeah. You can leave now.’
When Jack left for ‘work’, Esper headed down to the kitchen. He opened up a bag of rations, laying down red numius fruits that contained blue polka-dots. Beside them, he chopped up meat into thin slices and, with the help of a nearby torch, grilled them till they turned medium-rare. Using diced numius fruits, he garnished the food for a succulent brunch packed full of nutrients. When it came to food, Esper turned into a different person, especially when he could whip up a meal as good as this.
With a spring in his step, Esper skipped out of his home, almost forgetting to lock it, and headed towards the medic facility. The route he took led him past a district created for the utility familiar type mages. The people there carried, or even got carried in some cases, the various animals raised up with them, from birds to rideable canines called the Lupim3LupimA breed of dog. Large in size and often used as carriers..
A Tinoo2TinooA breed of bird. Often used for scouting. flew past Esper, circling around him before landing on his shoulder. A simple electric shock would have ended its life, but Esper decided against it, stopping in his tracks to stare at the bird’s white-feathered breast and red plumes on its head and tail feathers. It clucked a few times, showing off a piece of rolled up paper stuck to the underside of its beak. Esper pulled it out, inspecting the object without unravelling it.
‘My, my. What a mischievous bird you are!’ a pale, black-haired woman called out. She grabbed onto Esper’s shoulder, allowing the tinoo to hop onto her hand.
‘You should take better care of your familiar,’ Esper scolded, hiding the scroll in his palm.
‘Ah, my sincerest apologies. My partner here really loves people, you see,’ the stranger apologised, caressing the bird’s chin. ‘Would you like me to do anything to make it up to you?’
‘As a matter of fact, I do. Basically, I had the most amazing breakfast but now I’m running out of rations, so if you can give me some of yours, that’d be great.’
The woman squinted at Esper. She didn’t expect him to answer her rhetorical question. She looked at the tinoo that shook its body in some form of dance.
‘I agree,’ she nodded.
‘Oh, really?! Thanks!’ Esper exclaimed.
‘I wasn’t talking to you,’ the woman muttered before raising her voice. ‘What I meant to say is that I believe I’m taking too much of your time already. I’m sure you have someplace you needed to go.’
‘Oooooh, yeah,’ Esper realised. ‘Thanks for reminding me. I’ll take the food some other time.’
‘No problem,’ the woman said. Then her voice dropped into a whisper. ‘Make sure you give the letter to Tom Babacla.’
‘Huh? Um, ok.’
The woman soon blended into the crowd with her tinoo, leaving Esper with the scroll he failed to hide from her. He wanted to open and read the contents but his illiteracy prevented that from happening. Instead, he pocketed it and continued his journey to the facility Jack worked in.
Once at a building that stuck out in a cubed shape, detached from other buildings, Esper knocked on the Earthen door a couple of times. A bulky man slid the door open. He stared at Esper for a moment, assessing the newcomer.
‘Papers,’ he demanded.
Esper’s stomach turned inside-out.
‘Aw, man. I completely forgot to bring them,’ Esper admitted. ‘Um, just call Tom. He knows that I was going to come.’
The man looked at Esper with a suspicious gaze then closed the door again. Esper did an air punch, due to remembering to use Jack’s alias, and waited for the door to open again. This time Jack opened the door, glaring at his partner before putting on a bright fake smile.
‘Ah, Yanus Temply! I was expecting you. Do come in,’ he greeted.
Esper complied, giving the doorkeeper a nod as he walked past him. He followed Jack into a round waiting room. Sat on stone sofas, a few people glanced at the medic and his next patient. One of them, Esper realised, was the target.
The brown-skinned man called Lahel Bints fidgeted in his seat, nervousness emanating from every limb. He didn’t look that special either. He had less muscle than the doorman and no notable traits on the rest of his body. Not that Esper cared since he got to do something for once.
‘Right this way,’ Jack guided, leading him to the end of a narrow corridor where his office was. Once he closed the door behind him, his grin turned into an immediate frown. ‘Are you an idiot?!’
‘Woah. Where’d that come from? What happened to the smiley man?’ Esper said, surprised by the warranted change in mood from his compatriot.
‘How did you forget your papers?!’
‘It was an honest mistake.’
‘Tsk. Just shut up. I don’t have time for this. We got at most fifteen minutes to prepare before the other patients start to wonder what’s taking so long. I need you to use your “ghosting” and wait for my signal. Understood?’
‘You gotta chill, man. We got this.’
‘Then go to the corner of the room and stay hidden.’
‘Alright. Easy job, easy mission,’ Esper said with Jack rolling his eyes at the comment.
Esper went to the edge of the room, closed his eyes and concentrated. He could sense the electrical impulses surrounding the room. With a bit more focus, he began manipulating the ones around him, redirecting them towards Jack. For reasons he couldn’t explain, it masked his presence and made the main focus, in this case Jack, the centre of attention. He related it to an absence of the moment when something catches the corner of one’s eye but the logistics of it all was too complicated for Esper to care about.
‘Done with your “ghosting”?’ Jack asked.
‘Mm,’ Esper replied.
‘Here goes nothing. Lahel Bints!’ Jack called out, putting on a cheesy smile again.
Moments later, the door slid open. Lahel entered the room and closed the door behind him. He shook Jack’s hand, sweat transferring over, unnerving him.
‘Please, Mr Bints, sit down,’ Jack suggested.
‘Ah, thank you. Tom was it?’ Lahel asked, taking the seat.
‘Tom Babacla, yes,’ Jack confirmed, hiding his true identity. ‘Shall we begin our check-up?’
‘Ok,’ Lahel nodded.
‘I have your profile here,’ Jack said, picking up a pile of papers and reading from it. ‘Age: One hundred and fifty-two. Mhm. Next is height; eight feet two inches, exactly my height, funnily enough. Finally, your magi classification is Bestial Juggernaut. I see. You were also transferred to the Egypt division last year, right?’
‘Ha! To be honest you don’t look like a juggernaut, let alone an A ranked one at that. Are you sure the data is correct?’
The comment sparked something inside the fan. From the fidgeting wreck, he sat up straight, looked Jack in the eyes with steely determination and uttered,
‘I have fought in countless battles. I will be chosen to be the village leader’s guide soon. I think my abilities shouldn’t be in doubt or would you like a demonstration?’
‘Be my guest,’ Jack replied.
Lahel walked towards the wall where the exit door lay. He retracted his right arm before letting it fly into the wall at full throttle. A heavy sound echoed from where Lahel had punched the wall. He freed his arm and, in its place, a metre-long hole gaped open, the sound of dust crumbling from it.
‘Very impressive,’ the Jack remarked, ‘Looks like I was wrong.’
‘There’s a reason why I got chosen to be the village leader’s escort.’
‘Really? That’s amazing! And you received no injuries from that wall punch?’
‘No. I have high regeneration so something like that won’t hurt me’
‘The two attributes do complement each other quite well, as expected from a Juggernaut. Now I am going to do some body checks if you please.’
Lahel took off his shirt while Jack inspected his torso first, then his arms and face before finally moving towards the back. With Lahel’s back turned and unaware of his surroundings, Jack beckoned Esper to make his move.
Esper placed his hand on his target’s back. He felt the electricity flowing through his palms then, with one final push, he sent the wave through Lahel’s back. His body drooped, swaying on the chair, trying to keep balance.
‘Are you ok, Mr Bints?’ Jack asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he responded, each word sounding like gibberish as his lips trembled.
‘I’ll check one more time then. I think punching the wall was a bad idea after all.’
Lahel dropped to the floor, his body writhing in spasms. Foam began spewing out of his mouth. His eyes twitched in random movements. He clutched his heart as if pinpointing where the problem resided. Esper guessed the shock stopped his heart like it almost always does.
‘That was easy,’ Esper celebrated. ‘Told you we got this.’
‘We’re lucky he wasn’t on his guard. With the A ranked bodyguard outside the door to the clinic and the fact that Tom was a medic, he didn’t have anything to fear. If your ghosting got uncovered, it would have been a different story.’
Esper looked at the twitching body and stretched his arm towards it. He felt the electricity around his hands, ready to send another shock, just to make sure he finished the job.
‘Esper! We don’t have time for that now.’
‘Aww. C’mon, man. I’ve been holed up for ages and finally got to do something. Let me have fun for once.’
‘No,’ Jack denied. ‘Just take the body out of here. There’s a back entrance where you can leave it in the storage room on the far right for the time being. I’ll get to stealing his identity later. For now, I got more patients to tend to.’
‘I’m surprised you can do this sort of work, man.’
‘Tom was only a D rank mage. Most can do his work with little training.’
‘Just go already. We’re taking too much time,’ Jack said, looking at the clock on the wall.
‘Yes, boss-man,’ Esper saluted.
Esper dragged the body through the stone corridor lit with torches. He arrived at the room and hoisted the body into it, dusting his hands off once done. He closed the storage room’s door then headed for the exit, taking a deep breath of the fresh air outside as he did so.
‘Did you give Tom the scroll?’ someone asked.
Esper turned to see the same woman he bumped into earlier that day. Her tinoo perched on her shoulders, staring into Esper’s eyes with killing intent. However, Esper didn’t notice it and tilted his head in bemusement.
‘Did you bring food?’ Esper asked.
‘What?’ the woman provoked. ‘The scroll I gave you. Did you give it to Tom Babacla?’
‘What scroll? Oh, the one that was stuck in your bird’s beak,’ Esper realised before averting his gaze. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
‘Tsk. He was right. You really are an idiot.’
‘Hey. What about the food you said you’d bring me?’
The woman ignored Esper’s question and went around the building, towards the entrance and knocked on the door. The doorkeeper looked at documents she gave before allowing her to enter. Esper took no heed to her actions, although upset by the lack of food.
Esper’s stomach grumbled. Taking the invitation to leave, he headed towards his home, thinking of the leftovers from brunch. A bright smile shone on his face because, for once, he had accomplished something as a low ranked mage. He deserved an early dinner.
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